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review 2017-12-01 02:25
Dime novels and the workers who read them
Mechanic Accents: Dime Novels and Working-Class Culture in America - Michael Demming

In this book Michael Denning studies the working class of 19th and early 20th century America through an unusual medium – the books they read. He views young factory workers of both genders as the main audience of the mass-produced “dime novels” of the era, the action-adventure and rags-to-riches tales in which appealed to readers not as escapism but for the allegories they offered for their own often difficult lives. In this respect, he sees the consumption of the novels not as an act of escapism but as a way of mitigating the capitalist injustice which pervaded their readers’ lives. Though his own writing can be dense, Denning’s explanation of the production process of dime novels and his insights into their audience make this a valuable book for anyone interested in learning about the development of mass culture in Gilded Age and Progressive-era America.

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review 2017-10-28 03:37
Yippee ki-yay! This is just fun.
A Die Hard Christmas: The Illustrated Holiday Classic - Doogie Horner,JJ Harrison

This is going to be short and sweet. The premise: Take <b>Die Hard</b> one of the greatest action films ever made, one of the greatest Christmas movies ever made, and an all-around pop culture touchstone and turn it into a (<i><b>NOT</b></i> for kids) rhyming picture book.

 

I'm not sure I really need to say more, do I?

 

Horner does an admirable job with taking the flick and turning it into a series of rhymes -- it doesn't feel like a gimmick. A lot of what he doesn't grab, Harrison takes care of in the illustrations. It's not perfect, things are left out, but with only 32 pages -- you pretty much have to. Only 1 four-letter word, too (technically, 12 letters, but you get the point).

 

The art is great -- although you could make the case that Harrison gave McClane too much hair. The art is dynamic, you can feel the action, the characters all look just right. Some samples of the illustrations are <a href="http://jjwharrison.com/projects/a-die-hard-christmas/" target="_blank">here on Harrison's site</a>.

 

One complaint? No Argyle. Which I guess makes sense given the limited space, but man . . .

This is a hoot -- yeah, a novelty book, but well executed and well worth a read. Something to bring out every December (if you're the type to do that).

Source: irresponsiblereader.com/2017/10/27/a-die-hard-christmas-by-doogie-horner-jj-harrison
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review 2017-10-07 18:29
Billy Budd, Bartleby, and Other Stories, by Herman Melville
Billy Budd, Bartleby, and Other Stories (Penguin Classics Edition) - Peter M. Coviello,Herman Melville

Well that took me long enough! I've been desperate to read some horror, but these Melville stories have been hit and miss, his prose sometimes impenetrable. This is my second encounter with Melville (I read Moby Dick some years ago), and it's been a while. I was prompted to pick up this collection of his shorter works by recent references to both "Bartleby" and Billy Budd.

 

I began with "Bartleby, the Scrivener," which turned out to be my favorite. Melville is an excellent comic writer, and this portrait of a law office made me laugh out loud. Yet it's also incredibly poignant. The narrator is a lawyer who hires Bartleby as a scrivener (a copier); Bartleby joins three other employees, hilariously nicknamed Turkey, Nippers, and Ginger Nut. Bartleby goes about his copying, but when the lawyer asks him to read aloud his copy to proofread, he simply says he "prefers not to." From this point he "prefers" not to do all sorts of things, including leave when his boss attempts to fire him. The lawyer is non-confrontational and fancies himself a good man to the point where he actually changes the location of his office to avoid dealing with Bartleby (who is also found to be living there) further. Yet the problem of Bartleby persists.

 

Why does Bartleby "prefer not" to comply with requests made of him? Melville does not offer a black-and-white answer. The introduction likens Bartleby to a Wall Street occupier, someone who occupies spaces of capitalism without using them for that end, but the quote I found most insightful describes Bartleby as a man of preferences rather than assumptions. How much does our daily behavior and actions depend upon assumptions? As with other Melville works, a queer reading of the text is also possible: the relationship between the lawyer and Bartleby involves exchanges and behavior not dissimilar to those made in romantic partnerships.

 

The stories I liked next best were "The Encantadas, or Enchanted Isles" and "The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids." The former is a series of sketches by a sailor who has been to the Galapagos Islands; some sketches are more engaging than others. The language in the first few is lovely as Melville describes the hostile, lonely island landscape. The latter is a pair of tales told by the same American narrator, first in London then New England--a lawyer's club and paper mill, respectively. These are apparently based on Melville's own travels. I preferred the second piece, which I read as feminist and potentially Marxist. There's some fantastic prose detailing the paper machine, the women, and their work. 

 

There are five other stories, but the last I'll mention is the novella, Billy Budd, which Melville was working on at the time of his death. It's become key evidence for those who feel Melville may have been bisexual or simply held progressive views on gender and sexuality. Billy Budd is a "Handsome Sailor" who is conscripted to serve on a British naval ship. Everyone likes him, as he's pretty and good-natured. But one (also good looking) sailor envies his beauty and goodness, and it leads to tragedy. The most interesting thing about this tale for me was the fact that this is a story often told about women, to illustrate their vanity, jealousies, and pettiness or cattiness. In this context, in a time after two serious mutinies and during hostilities between Britain and France, such personal jealousy results in catastrophe.

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text 2017-09-27 04:49
Reading progress update: I've read 1 out of 314 pages.
Murder in Piccadilly: A British Library Crime Classic (British Library Crime Classics) - Charles Kingston

Originally published in 1936. 

 

Mentioned in Chapter 8: Capital Crimes of The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.

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review 2017-09-03 18:32
The Discreet Hero, Mario Vargas Llosa, trans. Edith Grossman
The Discreet Hero: A Novel - Mario Vargas Llosa,Edith Grossman

This book put me in a bind: while I found the story and characters engaging, fun, even, there are aspects that offended me. As I read, I would wonder: "Is this attitude or behavior endorsed by the author, or just described by him in depicting this place and these personalities?" By the end, I decided that there are definite ideologies at work here, including the beliefs that when it comes to family, blood is all; that the younger generation is responsible for squandering the hard work of their parents'; and the conservative viewpoint that if one only works hard enough, one can be successful. Other troubling attitudes that are questioned by characters but nevertheless feel condoned by the narrative: blaming victims of rape or sexual coercion; treating women as objects; racism; masculine pride as more important than the lives of loved ones.

 

After I finished the book, I read several reviews as I tried to work out my opinion of it. These mention that Vargas Llosa won the Nobel Prize for Literature but that this may not be his best work; that he used to be a social progressive but became a conservative who ran for president of Peru; that some characters appear in other books of his; that some elements are based on real events and his own life.

 

The book is divided between two alternating and converging narratives with separate protagonists, both fitting the "discreet hero" label of the title. The stories take place in two different areas of Peru, one Lima, one provincial, and their plots appear to have no connection. When they link up, it's very satisfying, even though the connection is quite minor. Each plot has elements of a mystery-thriller that propel the story; I found it hard to put down. The characters are often charming and easy to root for (until they're not). In story one, a man who worked his way up from nothing and owns a transport company is anonymously threatened unless he pays for protection; he refuses. In story two, a man on the verge of retirement and a long-awaited trip with his wife and son finds his life upheaved when his wealthy boss decides to marry his servant to punish his errant sons; at the same time, the protagonist's teenaged son is being approached by a mysterious stranger who may or may not be real, the devil, an angel, or just the kid fucking with his parents (this last mystery is left ambiguous).

 

Other elements I enjoyed included the relationship between the second protagonist and his wife, his feelings about art's role in life, the police sergeant from the first story, and learning about Peruvian life across two settings.

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